This story appears in Joan D'Arc's Hunter Gatheress Issue 2 2009
The Psychic Scumbag
by James Quigley
And Shannock, too! But this a squirrel means
When rendered into Yankee phrase I ween;
(By the way, our friends might think it quite ill
to change "Shannock" into "Squirrel Hill".)
Part 1: Squirrel Hell
It's been 18 years since I left but even since then, Shannock is still Shannock. I expected as much, it's always been a sort of wasteland to me, even when I was a boy. I'm here to figure out where I can score some more conium maculatum. It's wearing off and I'm ready for another sick hit. I want this one to hurt, I want it to count, I just want to start over and wake up 13 again. I'm 34 years old now. Actually, that's not true, it's the end of March and I will be 34 in September.
My father always got confused about his age too. He was always guessing within 5 years of knowing how old he was. Maybe I'm getting older faster. I don't know when he started forgetting but it doesn't matteróas much as I'm like my father, I'm not the same, though I can at least claim to be pickling myself in the same sort of sour brine that he was soaking in. We're side by side, living and dead, father and son, bloated and bobbing in the black drippings of a suspended adolescent sponge that wrinkles lips with its latent senility.
Yeah, I know that I sound like a pussy and I'm going to get shit for saying this, but that animal has been squeezed dry. There's no juice left in it.
Sometimes I really miss him. Itís still a warm pain but it's better than forgetting. We aren't the same, but I don't like to think about the differences that were between us.
Because there's a beautiful soft solace in wearing those nicotine-stained incorporeal plasm-skins of my father's invisible coughing ghost.
Really, it doesn't matter how old I am. The biggest difference between my father and I is that I'm not dead yet.
DOWNEY-WEAVER POST No.34 American Legion
While a nondescript necromancer sits to my father's left at the bar, a trash bag filled with moldy porno magazines and cat bones sits steaming and stinking to his right. Between each of them is an empty seat. I recall that my father doesn't remember much about that death wizard except for a set of teeth that looked to be as soft as wet chalk and, imaginably, "a bitch to brush." Along the bar sit nine empty bottles of beer, a plastic ashtray piled with True Blues filters, and behind the most ornate oak countertop ever seen by human eyes stands the glowing automatonic cyborg known as The Power-King Brainiac. According to legend, he would be my father's bartender this and every night in my re-telling of his tall tale. He's a smart guy.
Nine beers in and my dad's got to take a leak.
There are dirty walls and I feel my father's left-handed middle finger trace along a D-Day painting depicting a rolling crimson wave of American GIs cascading in slaughtered ghastly piles onto a volcanic black and sandy shore. A feral pack of washed-up porcine drinking buddies still sit underneath that painting every Sunday afternoon. "You have to pass by that crew if you need to take a piss," my father says to his youngest son.
It was in the men's room on the mirror where through my father's bloodshot eyes I read now what he once read from ancient runic graffiti scrawled in spectral snot,
"Chester York has popped his cork"
and he shook his head and said, well my friend, you're in for it, because the day soon comes that our shell-shocked cowboy will mumble the 3 secret words:
1 2 3
"IN THE SHIT"...
We're all going to pay...
Chester York may rule the day!
Well until then, the devil is diddling away at a teenage boy in a small bedroom that is sandwiched between the men and women's toilets. His grey stubble rubbed that boy's belly rough and rashy, red and raw. The devil might just be pederast ignorant cannon-fodder still clinging onto Chronos's dirty silver ass-hairs for too long, but to the boy, the devil's pink hellhole is a pulsing rifled corridor scarred by the shit-stained cosmic artifacts that the devil never fully digested. That boy is trying to reconstruct God out of the Devil's dingleberries.
My father hates walking by that room, but when you gotta piss, you gotta piss.
It's last call and The Power-King Brainiac hovers above the bar. A speaker in his throat bellows a machinoid vocalization.
"Jim, you're not going to be able to drive home, here's a flashlight, take the path through Browntown."
Part II: Browntown
We can make it home through the woods. I feel sick though, I still haven't scored and the ghost skins are getting itchy. My father told me that I'd have to walk in his footsteps in order to know why he had to do what he had to do. Here I am, walking in his footsteps. He told me too many stories to remember but I know them all right now. Where I am now is a place that only used to be.
That old burnt-out trailer is still there, on the edge of Browntown. It's still smoking after ten years.
Ben lived in that trailer. My father said there used to be a dirt road but I can't see it, though there had to have been in order for him to get that trailer all the way back within those trees. I guess the old rusted truck is what he used. It's all overgrown now, but even when Ben was alive whatever road that had been still must have been long gone. Maybe the Druids used levitation to drop all of his shit out there.
It's hard to know now, my ghost sight is failing, my dad's barely there. I'm forgetting what Browntown ever was.
I'll try to remember.
Someday or sometime there was a secret place in the woods between my house and the Legion. It was called Browntown. In the middle, dead center exactly, was a deep old hole. Half of the year the hole was empty; the other half, the hole was full of shit.
The Brown Hole, as it was known, contained particular interesting properties that made it unique among other famous holes in the Earth. Like most holes it was certainly empty sometimes but strangely still considered a hole when it was filled with something. The occupation of its Hole Space occurred fifty percent of the time during our solar cycle, when it filled with pulsing pod-like wombs containing regenerated humans suspended in a thick dark brown fecal matter.
Like other shit-holes in the world, the people of Browntown never left and no one would want to visit. What made Browntown different though was that not only did no one ever leave, no one ever really died. They just got tossed in the hole and spit back out when they were ready to live again.
Thanks to modern education, we know now that what some thought was supernatural could easily be explained through science.
Brown Hole was a one-of-a-kind organic Non-structural Endocarnitive device that functioned very closely to the manmade mechanical Guderrman Womb-engine that powered the popular Kitchen Critter(tm) found in most modern American homes since the late 1980s. Its distinction as a natural phenomenon that in effect served the same purpose as an essential household product is just one of many things that makes The Brown Hole so fascinating, but it was the strength of the hole that made it so unique.
Whereas commercial Endocarnitive devices were capable of generating simple nutritive synthorganic protein slimes, the Brown Hole went a few steps further and could actually resurrect the dead.
Browntown wasn't a normal town because no one feared death, but the Brown Hole made it that way, so they were all afraid to leave. "What kind of life is that?," my dad always said to me. The people of Browntown, he said, "were a different kind of human altogether.î
Ten years ago when my dad died, I dragged his corpse to Browntown, but the place was deserted and the hole was gone. When I tried to find my way home, I got lost and never found my way back.
Now I'm in those woods again. Sleepless and sick. I need a hit. I'm dragging this ghost around and I can't see shit. I'm just running out of it all. This place used to be on the way back home, but now that there is no home, everything is the Browntown ghost town, everything is just in-between, and everywhere is nowhere.
This place had a life once; somewhere in these woods Browntown might have moved. I wouldn't know now, my dad's ghost eyes have faded away and I'm just in the dark.
What would I be if I didn't lose my home? I'd be a different kind of human altogether.
I'd be like poor Ben, smoldering bones, melted plastic, forgotten.
PART III: Benís Story
Ben's father gave him a laundromat with no washing machines. His brother Bill had sold them right before their dad went to jail. He had a lot of empty space and a good deal of electrical outlets, so he dropped a bunch of arcade games in there. When the arcade closed a couple years later, Ben turned it into a video store. The place was a mess, no system, no alphabetization, no new movies. Just weird 70s garbage, creepy shit like soft-core Nazi concentration camp sex flicks and a whole lot of porn.
By the mid 80s Ben got turned onto survivalism and started selling knives out of a glass case in front of the register, right by the dusty movie theatre-sized candy that no one ever bought. He got a permit to carry them too, but it was taken away after he got tossed in the clink for threatening a judge when he made a big stink at the courthouse, insisting that the permit gave him the right to carry even in court when he was being sued by his brother after the store closed.
Like most folks in Browntown, Ben ended up down at the flea market. Every Saturday, there he was selling his old videos for $1 a pop and getting fatter.
About a year before the trailer fire that killed him, Sea Breezes Motel gave him a job on Fridays, cleaning up after Fish n' Chip night, and Sundays, cleaning up after the Big Sunday Buffet. Ben really kept to himself that last year. Besides the flea market, you only saw him on those days at the motel. Other than that, he was holed up in that crooked old trailer, watching his old videos, smoking, and getting fatter.
Ben wasn't exactly born to lose though. That laundromat was part of the KLEAN'S Laundry chain founded by his father, Willy Gross. Ben was a spoiled rich kid, and when he was four years old, his mother thought he was so damn cute that she brought him down to a talent agency and got his ass in a canned spaghetti commercial. He worked the Browntown theatre circuit starring in a variety of plays. By the time he was 11, he had been launched into the spotlight as one of the Chewy-Gooey Gang.
The Chewy-Gooey was everyone's favorite candy bar, a teeth-pulling round green peanut butter patty covered in milk chocolate and topped in tangy sugar candy "C." When it first hit the shelves, the kids in Browntown couldn't pester their parents enough to drop the 30 cents for one, and in time the parents were hooked too. My father bought them by the case.
Every night after dinner we'd stuff ourselves with as many Chewy-Gooeys as our jaws would allow. They were sticky things that sent families through revolving dentists' doors.
Saturday nights, 7pm, Chewy Looey and the Chewy-Gooey Gang. It was an hour of colorful mayhem featuring four ironically overweight children who were transported beyond space and time to the land of Chewy Looey, a green-bearded caveman who created Chewy-Gooeys in the Magic Tummy Oven out of rainbows and fun. Deep in the abysmal plains of the Slimy Sea lurked his nemesis, Burt Von Burp, an aquatic aviator who schemed endlessly to destroy rainbows and ruin fun. Von Burp and his horde of monstrous henchman were funny and gave the gang a real run for its money.
The misadventures of the Chewy-Gooey Gang were catalogued by the Fire Librarian deep in the heart of the Sun. It was there where each episode began with a lanky fire-haired old curmudgeon clumsily turning gears and knobs to generate a piece of paper that he'd insert into the mouth of a green and white panda with a television monitor where his stomach should have been, all the while grumbling on and on about retiring. The camera would then zoom into the panda's belly and the cartoon introduction and theme song would kick in. Over the course of the show's four-year life-span, the Fire Librarian was played by at least six ill-fated elderly men.
Ben Gross portrayed "Benny." It was perfect timing for Ben, with his red hair and freckled cheeks. Fortunately a mandate passed by the Browntown Town Committee in the 70s declared that red-headed children be introduced into mainstream society through a quota system whereby 1 out of 5 children on any television show must be a redhead.
The other children in the gang were Leroy, the black kid, Jenny, the white girl, and the male Asian kid who over the course of four years was represented by four different characters, the first two called Bonsai, the third Suki, and the fourth, Bonsai again, which obviously determined the titled of the fourth season's first episode, "Bonsai: The Return of Bonsai."
Each child possessed a magic chair, an evolved magical version of the one they were sitting in the first time they bit into a Chewy Gooey and were subsequently transported to Looey Land. Jenny's seat was a winged pink rocking chair she called Windspirit; it possessed the power of fight. Leroy's was a large reclining chair covered in moss and grass that allowed him to sleep and use his dreams to create cartoons that would do battle for himóhe called it The Dream Chair. Bonsai's chair was a simple wooden high-backed chair that transformed into a German shepherd with a green lion's mane; it was known as Fang Foo. Benny's chair consisted of a metal stool that spun him around while spraying sticky green slime in all directions. It was called Whirlwind, but we all knew its double meaning as Benny's Magical Squirting Green Stool since that was also the name of the common effect among those of us who overconsumed the candy.
Through the four years, the Chewy Gooey Gang was everywhere: action figures, a full-length film, Halloween costumes, and a fashion line, while the candy itself became the basis of numerous less profitable candy offshoots such as the Funny Fist, a candy-apple type concoction that involved children dipping their fists into various liquid candies that formed an edible shell around their hand. My own Funny Fist caused me a chemical burn on my right hand that still flares up when it's humid.
By the time Ben was 15, he was only 5'4", acne-ridden, and severely obese. His hairline began receding early, his home-schooling was barely existent, and all but one his father Willy's laundromats had gone out of business. In the end the show was cancelled due to the company's bad press from the Funny Fist lawsuits, and eventually the Chewy Gooey disappearedóand so did Ben's hope as an adult.
The story goes that Ben sat in that trailer, slowly burning for years. Some of the folks in Browntown would make the trip into the woods, knock on the hot trailer door, and ask Ben if he wanted to be put out. Every time, Ben would tell them no, and they'd go away. After awhile no one bothered, and Ben just cooked away until he was gone. Nobody knew when it was that he started roasting, but it took at least a good three and a half years before he was finally gone.
That, my father said, marked the end of Browntown.
Ben was just the start of it all. No one wanted to pick up the trash anymore. If someone croaked, they just got left to rot. To the people of Browntown, dying was better than living forever, or living at all anywhere else.
That old hole is healed and sealed. All the bones are gone.
I've got to keep moving. I'll find my way back to the main road. Shannock is still Shannock, there's not much left of a place that there wasn't much of in the first place: just old stories, and I can't tell those old stories like my father did. They just don't sound the same.
HOT LUNCH copyright James Quigley 2008